Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Plugging the loopholes of state revenue collection

Meghalaya generates very meager resources; hence the need to rush to the national capital to seek funds for any development programme. Even with centrally funded schemes like the MGNREGS, National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) etc, the state government is often reported to be trying to convince the centre to do away with the state’s share of the programme or to at least consider Meghalaya as a special case and change the funding pattern with respect to the state. The argument more often than not is because Meghalaya is a poor state which on its own can generate little revenue.
It was also reported that the State Government had some months ago sent some of its MLAs to Gujarat to learn from the Narendra Modi government on ways and means to increase revenue collection in the state through the integrated check gate system. Till date, the citizens of the state are yet to hear anything from the MLAs who visited Gujarat, but, while the people of the state are waiting for the report and recommendation of the MLAs who had visited Gujarat, we might as well look into and examine the way the Meghalaya Transport Department weighbridge at Ynniaw-mer is run. This particular weighbridge caters to the needs of the largest numbers of trucks exporting coal and lime stone from the State. This particular weighbridge in Jaintia hills is perhaps one of the busiest in the State. It is busy because it weighs not only trucks which carry coal, lime stone and now even half-finished cement products to Guwahati, but more importantly it is also responsible for weighing trucks which export coal to Bangladesh.
Any thinking commuter on the National Highway from Ynniaw-mer to Guwahati would question the accuracy of the process of weighing on that weigh-bridge and whether it really permits only trucks which carry load up to the permissible limit of nine tons as per the Supreme Court (SC) directives. If this weigh-bridge were to have strictly implemented the SC directives then how can truck drivers still sell excess coal from their trucks to coal vendors on the national highway 44 starting from Yalong village in Jaintia Hills to villages in Ri Bhoi District? If the official manning the weighbridge allow trucks carrying only the specified weights to pass through then the question is where does the excess coal come from? Talking about efforts to plug the loss of revenue that is due to the State, this is perhaps one of the weighbridges that needs to improve on its revenue collection, but the question is whether the government is willing to do that?
This column has time and again mentioned about the overloaded trucks that carry coal from Lad Rymbai to Bangladesh despite the fact that all the trucks carrying coal to Bangladesh are weighed at the Ynniaw-mer weighbridge. The truth that the overloaded coal laden trucks are exporting coal, limestone and boulders to Bangladesh without hassles was confirmed by the recent letter of the Superintendent of the Land Customs Station at Dawki, Jaintia Hills which was copied to all the exporters’ organizations in the area. The Superintendent as per letter no C.No.VIII (48) 5/CUS/LS/DK/04/123-125 dated 24/5/2012 has categorically stated that the Land Custom Stations in the area on both the Indian and Bangladesh side of the border has found that there are incidents of trucks carrying loads beyond the specified 9 tons limit permitted by the Court. Now, again the same question arises, if all the trucks carrying coal to Bangladesh were properly weigh at the same Ynniaw-mer weigh-bridge, there would be no need for the Superintendent of the Land Customs to even send this letter to the exporters in the area. The letter, a copy of which was also send to the General Secretary of the Foreign Trade and Commerce Meghalaya, Secretary Meghalaya International Exporters Chambers of Commerce, Dawki, Jaintia Hills and President of the War Jaintia Limestone, Boulder, Exporter Miners Association, Dawki has informed that the office of the LCS has received a complaint from the District Forest Officer, Jaintia Hills, the Directorate of Mineral Resources, Meghalaya that the officer in the station allows trucks to pass through this custom station carrying load beyond the 9 tons limit ordered by the court. The Superintendent has in the letter sought the support of the coal, limestone and boulder to regulate and streamline coal, lime stone and boulder exported from this station. Information about this letter was first brought to light by a premier vernacular daily of the state.
The illegal operation as noted by the Superintendent of the Dawki LCS has brought huge loss to the state government in terms of taxed from the minerals exported from this port. Each truck carries more than double the 9 tons capacity while carrying papers claiming that the load the truck carries is only 9 tons. The question is how can this happen and why was this allowed to happen? Why did the district administration turn a blind eye to the illegal trade that has brought immeasurable loss to the state exchequer? What about the police? They are very prompt and active in implementing the hounourable Supreme Court order prohibiting cars from using tinted glasses but have done nothing to stop this looting of the state resources (which is again another of the Supreme Court’s directive), thereby depriving the State the revenue that is due to the public exchequer?
The whole Indo-Bangla trade from Dawki LCS has not generated as much revenue to Meghalaya as it should have done. In fact the way the manner in which trade is conducted through this station causes more revenue loss. The trucks load more than double the 9 tons capacity but the tax paid is only for 9 tons. This is the case with all the minerals exported from Ynniaw-mer weigh bridge which includes coal, limestone and boulders. The reason is because the dots throughout the route on which the trucks travel, starting from Lad Rymbai area to the Dawki port are well connected. From the person who mans the weighbridge to the police in Jowai, Amlarem and Dawki, the DMR, the custom officials and the police officer in the Tamabil gate- it is a very well-oiled machine running smoothly with clockwork precision. No wonder then that despite the fact that the term of contract allotted to the firm which runs the weighbridge now at Ynniawm-mer is over, the government is yet to call on a fresh tender for the same. When everything runs hassle-free to achieve one sole objective, it makes one wonder how this can happen. I am not implying anything but is this not a case of short-selling the State? And if the whole system is so well connected than are the big-wigs in the Government including the chief minister not aware of this broad daylight looting of the State’s legitimate resources?
If the government is really interested in generating revenue for the state, it need not send MLAs to Gujarat. All it has to do is to apply its minds and send the MLAs to all the weigh-bridges and toll gates in the state and let them observe what is going on in the weigh-bridge and toll gates and maybe even the entire route and report on the ways and means to improve revenue collection from the toll gates and the weighbridges. But the question is who will bell the cat? Or rather allow me to rephrase the question. ‘Is there anybody in the government who dare’s to bite the hand that feeds?’ (The author is a researcher and an environmental activist)


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